Family is the most vital unit of society

Parents’ Perspective by Maria Byrne

I recently attended an introductory session on Pope John Paul II’s profound teaching, The Theology of the Body. Presented by the renowned, writer and theologian, Christopher West, The Gift is a comprehensive study programme that is designed to lay a firm foundation for anyone seeking to learn about and incorporate The Theology of the Body into their lives. What remained with me after the 90 minute session were some words that Pope John Paul II used in a homily he delivered in Perth, Australia, in 1986: “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live.” The Pope emphasised the fact that the home is the “Church in miniature”. A family should be a community of life and love, educating the members and leading them to maturity. He explained that, “in its own way, it is a living image of the mystery of the Church.”

Planned events

At this time of year, everything seems to be focused on the family. Most parents find that they’re operating to a tight schedule with the calendar full of planned events chock-a-block with dancing and drama, sports and scouts and all the other activities that children are involved in.

Even if we are struggling to pay the bills, there’s a reluctance to let go of anything that contributes to our children’s self-improvement, especially if it’s something that they love. I attended a reunion of old friends recently and it was great to realise that we all had common concerns and worries about our offspring. We were all striving to do our best for our families and eager to give our children the opportunity to develop their various talents and to have that little bit extra to help them to realise their ambitions and dreams.


It was great to chat with other women who knew the frustrations of seeing a child fall through the cracks or struggle to reach their true potential. There wasn’t a single mother who hadn’t pushed themselves to the limit to smooth their children’s paths towards becoming independent and productive members of society. However, there was a certain level of weariness and stress. For most of us, the rushing and planning, the tight scheduling and balancing, had become a bit of a chore. Where was the time to relax, to just enjoy the company of our spouses and children, and to work on a richer, more meaningful family vision? – A vision like Pope John Paul’s one where the family is a dynamic unit that “serves the good of all along the road of life”.

The family is the first and vitally important cell of society. Pope John Paul understood that the future of the world and of the Church depends on the health and contribution of the family. When we do our best to focus on our family, we often see our role as cheerleader and facilitator. We’ll be there to taxi our children here, there and everywhere; we’ll never miss a football match or a ballet performance; we’ll balance the books to make sure that, whatever is cut, it won’t be one of our child’s favourite activities or hobbies. All these things are wonderful, but, as Christian parents and families, we can feel that we’re missing the whole point. Often, the endless round of activities is about improving each individual and fostering competition. There may be little focus on citizenship or the importance of reaching out beyond the immediate family environment to influence and enrich the wider community.

Comfort zones

How can we look past our own immediate family concerns to bring the message of Christianity beyond our own front door? In an interview with La Repubblica, Pope Francis said that the true mission of the Christian is to love one’s neighbour which he refers to as “that leavening that serves the common good”.

We are called to identify the material and immaterial needs of people and to try to meet those needs. The Pope spoke of agape love which C.S. Lewis described as the highest level of love known to humanity, “a selfless love, a love that is passionately committed to the well-being of the other”. If we want to live lives committed to this sort of love, we’ll have to move outside our comfort zones. As Christians, we can’t focus on our own children and be satisfied with a job well done if we haven’t fostered in those children a zeal to share what they have with the wider community and world.

When considering committing a child to yet another extracurricular pursuit, we should think carefully about its impact on our family and its ability to get involved in areas involving social justice. If we want our children and our family members to be Christians who are truly intent on making a difference, how are we organising family life to enable that to happen? If our children love music, can they volunteer to play in a hospital or home; can they drop that extra sport and volunteer for a local charity or get involved in a parish initiative that reaches out to the poor, the lonely or the unemployed? If our family is, as Pope John Paul II said, “at the service of the whole human family”, what are we doing to make that service a reality in the busyness of our daily lives?